Simple & Sinister Progression Tactic

Today we will discuss some nuances of your Kettlebell Simple & Sinister progression, inspired by lively discussions on the StrongFirst forum.

Simple & Sinister Pavel Tsatsouline

In a nutshell, the program calls for 10×10 one-arm swings (five sets per arm), with the goal of eventually being able to do them in five minutes with a particular size kettlebell any time. It does not mean you should strive to hit your 100 swings in five minutes in every training session, though.

Al Ciampa, SFG, pointed out:

Training for an event, or competition is always different from the event itself: the intensity is usually lower, the distance or time is shorter/less, etc. But, our contemporaries would have you believe otherwise. So, in the current fitness context of boot camps, insane training programs, high-intensity this and that… well, of course, you are going to compete (read: try for the S&S goal) every session.

But in the same way that you do not run the marathon until the actual race… do not attempt the time standards of S&S until your “training is complete”. This “training” consists of many months, possibly years, of lower intensity swings and get-ups, i.e., training to your breath, HR, talk test, etc. No clock, no sense of urgency, no rush. Let the training provoke adaptations in your mind and body, then, and only then, apply those adaptations to the competition: the S&S time goal.

In the beginning, when the kettlebell is light, you might be able to do your 100 swings in five minutes every day. But as your poundages climb, an organic form of cycling tends to develop to comply with the non-negotiable rules of S&S: stay fresh every day and explosive every set. You can do it by training aerobically most of the days – that is resting long enough between sets to pass the talk test.

The Science Behind Simple & Sinister

Belying its apparent simplicity, S&S happens to have some fascinating science under the hood. Back in the 1980s, Soviet scientists and coaches, Prof. Yuri Verkhoshansky among them, pioneered “anti-glycolytic training” for various endurance events. Where the prevailing approach of dealing with the “burn” of accumulating lactic acid was—and still is—exposing the athlete to ever more intense acid baths, the Soviets had a radical thought: what if we arrange the training in such a manner that the muscles do not produce and accumulate so much acid?

Early efforts concentrated on “putting anaerobic glycolysis in a vice,” as one coach put it, of two other energy systems, alactic and aerobic. The former is responsible for the first twenty seconds or so of a powerful effort before anaerobic glycolysis and the “burn” kick in. Training methods were developed to beef up the alactic “tank” and improve aerobic recovery.

Although these experiments were successful, the above adaptations are fairly limited. It was not until the Soviet Union fell apart that anti-glycolytic training or AGT was revolutionized by Prof. Victor Selouyanov. He discovered how to make the fast and intermediate fibers aerobic.

What gives the slow fibers their endurance are the little organelles called mitochondria. Mitochondria allow one to efficiently produce energy for muscle contractions with the use of oxygen, aerobically. Selouyanov found a way of installing these aerobic machines into fast fibers!

Note: Before we continue, it must be stressed that developing mitochondria in a fast fiber does not make the fiber slower or weaker. Members of the Russian national judo team who have had tremendous success with anti-glycolytic conditioning routinely bench press 1.75-2 times their bodyweight.

Russian national judo team
The Russian national judo team implemented anti-glycolytic training with great success.

Although some recent studies claim to know the answers, the exact cellular mechanisms that turn on mitochondrial growth are not yet known. But Selouyanov figured out the stimuli responsible for turning these mechanisms on. He learned that it is the total time a muscle fiber spends in mild fatigue and acidity that presses the button.

Applying Science to a Simple & Sinister Progression

Runners are familiar with this effect when their slower fibers grow some more mitochondria from training just below the anaerobic threshold. The AnT refers to the exercise intensity when lactic acid accumulation suddenly starts speeding up. Training right below this threshold produces the desired condition of mild local fatigue/acidity.

In fast fibers, the same effect can be achieved by carefully changing the loading parameters in interval training: briefer and more powerful work; longer and active rest. You must stop each set of a high power exercise at the point where the alactic tank is starting to run low but anaerobic glycolysis has not had the time to rev up all to full speed—typically at ten to twenty seconds. Then you must rest longer than what you are accustomed to in order to permit the fatigue and the acid to dissipate. The rest must be active—walking around, jogging, “fast and loose” drills, etc. Easy movement speeds up the elimination of acid.

Prof. Selouyanov sums up mitochondria producing AGT:

…every muscular contraction must be performed with a near-maximal intensity but average intensity of the exercise should not exceed the anaerobic threshold power. In this case all muscle fibers are active in the exercise but, thanks to regulation of the rest pause and the period of muscular relaxation, complete clearance of metabolic products of anaerobic glycolysis must be assured.

This is where the talk test comes in. American research showed that the highest exercise intensity at which you can still talk comfortably places you slightly below the An—if you are not sure whether you are comfortable or not, you are at or slightly above the AnT. (You can also use a heart rate monitor to optimize your Kettlebell Simple & Sinister training intensity instead of the talk test. Al Ciampa, SFG and I tell you how in this blog.)

Now what happens if you rest less, and start your next set while you are still huffing and puffing? Presumably, the mitochondria growing machinery comes to a halt or at least slows down. The endurance you are developing will be more glycolytic in nature and your body composition will be improving through different physiological mechanisms.

Applying the Science to Your Training

There are pros and cons of glycolytic training (I have touched on them briefly in the past and will expand in the future). The most immediate con is the inability to sustain high quality daily training and to have high energy and readiness. Decades ago, the Soviets recognized that predominantly glycolytic training is most stressful to the endocrine system and thus can easily lead to overtraining. Or at least make you feel sore and tired, which is at odds with the stated goals of S&S.

In summary, your Simple & Sinister progression tactic is:

Most of your S&S sessions do not rush the clock and wait until you can pass the talk test before your next set. On the last session of each week push harder and occasionally all out and test yourself.

Pavel Tsatsouline
CEO
Pavel Tsatsouline is the CEO of StrongFirst, Inc.

65 thoughts on “Simple & Sinister Progression Tactic

  • I started S+S 30 workouts ago (34 days, missed a couple of workouts due to family / work commitments, but am still aiming at a workout 7/7). keen to learn technique and not get injured by overloading an old shoulder rotator cuff injury, I started out with 16kg kbells. within a week, it felt too light – suitable for warmup only – and so i have progressed to the 24kg bell – and on workout 28 felt sufficiently frisky that I took a pop at the 32kg bell for the get-up and had little difficulty doing the lift. what i find amazing is that only 4 weeks before, I had been unable to even rack the 32 without serious difficulty! I am thoroughly enjoying this daily “recharge”, done before showering/dressing for work – and find the organic recovery of my strength capacity quite fascinating. I suspect that I will have to restrain my enthusiasm and spend more time building “shadow intensity” with the 24kg on swings, but anticipate having to upgrade to 32kg before the winter. What I love is that on days I feel less strong, I can throttle back and work on technique with more time to recover, and days when I brim with energy I can easily raise the bar. thank you for the brilliant program – I have committed to doing this exclusively for a year, and look forward to what the daily practice brings. Considering I am 55yrs old and have an osteoarthritic knee, torn shoulder and old neck disc prolapse, I am thoroughly enjoying the fact that my old injuries are not holding me back the way a squat/deadlift/bench program would. Thank You Pavel!

    :^)

    Bill Warrilow

  • Sorry, probably not the right place to ask this, but even after bothering the people on the forums about this, I still am not sure as to why someone would choose to follow the “Enter the Kettlebell” system over S&S or vice versa. I’ve been a bit perplexed as to why there are two apparently competing programmes like this from the same Strongfirst philosophy. It they’re equal and it’s just by individual preference, then I’ll keep at S&S forever because I like daily consistency – my personality is like this, but if Enter the Kettlebell (ROP) is better or for people who are a bit more serious about weightlifting then I wouldn’t want to miss out on it.

    • I would suggest that the Rite of Passage will have a more specific positive impact on your overhead pressing.

      Both of them are GPP and will make you strong. Both will make you conditioned. However, if you are looking to press something heavy overhead, having a program with presses is obviously a significant advantage.

  • hmmm…
    trying to restart S&S I changed how I would progress. My limit has typically been my lungs…

    Normally one does one set at the top of the minute. You start with 5×10 in 5 minutes and eventually add a set when you can until eventually you do 10×10 in 10. In the past i found it hard to keep making progress.

    I’m trying a tweak that appears to be working better so far for me. Keep the swing portion to 10 minutes regardless of sets. One set every two minutes when 5×10. That does mean more rest when you start with less sets. When you add a set you front load it with only one minute, the remainder of the sets stay at 2 minutes of rest. The first minute of rest I’m marching in place with gusto. The second minute of rest I’m slowing down, shaking it out, doing some mobility drills. This is just a small trick that I find is making my progress “easier”.

    total sets: rest per set
    5: 5×120
    6: 1×60 5×120
    7: 3×60 4×120
    8: 5×60 3×120
    9: 7×60 2×120
    10: 10×60

  • Andy, the problem is not lactate but H+. Although the mechanisms of excess H+ formation during anaerobic glycolysis may be more complex than simple disassociation of lactic acid into lactate and H+ (Robergs et al. 2004), H+ still remains the bad guy.

  • Sound training advice, although as the article acknowledges, the science of lactate utilisation is an area of active research and popular misconceptions abound.
    Readers interested in the background theory would do well to check out the papers of Dr George Brooks at Berkeley.

  • Павел, большое спасибо, прекрасный сайт, отличные статьи! Есть ли надежда, что когда-нибудь данный сайт и статьи будут на русском языке? Такой информации очень мало в русском интернете

  • How degraded is the Simple and Sinister anti-glycolytic training effect if done in conjunction with aerobic training?

    For busy Soldiers training for a selection, aerobic work in the form of rucking and running is the staple training. Many times Soldiers, and especially leaders, will only be able to carve out one time in their day for PT. If their day affords only one workout, would a S&S workout followed by aerobic training or vice versa be effective? Are there training guidelines for aerobic training near S&S to still maximize AGT?

    Thanks for the incredible work Pavel. I owe my four injury free deployments to your expertise

    • Chris, aerobic LSD is complimentary to S&S.

      Here is the rule of thumb of aerobic training before or after strength training. if you are focusing on neural adaptations, do strength work first (or the day before) when you are fresh. If you are focusing on hypertrophy, you can lift after LSD (same or next day) and it is best to avoid LSD (except very easy work) for 48 hours.

      S&S is a program that combines various adaptations: strength, power, hypertrophy, endurance. As such, it can go either way.

      Thank you for your kind words and your service for our country.

  • Another excellently written piece by the Chairman – thank you PT. In a world that promotes an ever increasing range of ‘superior’ fitness styles, approaches, protocols etc (many of which blindly demonise ‘rest’), S&S has been been an absolute breath of fresh air for my own practice. Not only has this article re-enforced the magic behind S&S to me, it’s sparked my realisation that the S&S principles can easily be expanded to apply to other areas of life! Some food for thought…

  • Totally agree with your points. I started off with the lighter ones (10kg) when I first tried kettlebells and it was fairly simple. Then I moved on to the heavier range as I gain more strength and find it much harder but I never overdo it. I take it step by step so that I can workout to the same level of intensity that I had when I was using the lighter kettlebells. I am going to get a heavier range soon from kettlebellsaustralia.com.au. Looking forward to the next one!

  • Interesting. Have been doing S&S regularly since April, but only about every 5th day. Have been a regular yogi under Bryan Kest school (Santa Monica Power Yoga) for 10 years and was able to get your simple standard on my 29th kb workout on the 129th day after starting. Kudos to you, what a great protocol, so many WTF effects in sports, yoga and running, especially in the hills. Thank you so much! My comment/question is that I never really feel like the kb workout approaches my anaerobic threshold – the limiting factor for me has always been developing the strength, esp in grips on the swing and shoulders on the GU. I wonder if the yoga practice that I have done over the years, which is slow/low strength training over 90 minutes has simulated the effect you describe here, a much different place to come at S&S than a typically strength trainee has? Not saying yoga is an optimal strength training protocol, but that yoga and S&S are very complimentary.

  • If time is an issue for someone, will splitting up the workout (maybe swings in the morning, get ups at night) be okay? Thanks

  • The discussions on the forum and this article have really helped me understand S&S a lot better. I think at first when I saw the discussion a few months back, my biggest resistance to the long rests was I had in my mind a certain length of time the session should take. Once I got over that and changed my expectation to be up to 50 minutes from warm-up to final getup, its great. For a lot of people who don’t like the idea, it might just be a matter of changing their time expectation, and then you get to surprise yourself when the sessions take longer than the hour you set aside for your fitness. Since the benefits of S&S go far beyond any single attribute, its definitely worth 4-6 hours a week. Less time in front of the TV or lurking on the Strong First forums, more time doing.

  • Very informative article as usual. I’m very interested in more information on how the Russian judo team trains there bench. This part peaked my interest. (Russian national judo team who have had tremendous success with anti-glycolytic conditioning routinely bench press 1.75-2 times their bodyweight.)

  • Excellent concept of ‘easy conditioning ‘, Pavel. Great article.

    If i may, I’d like to share something I’ve been experimenting with on S&S. My problem is time being limited due to unpredictable hours as a pro musician with homeschool kids…busy stuff. Being that I only have about 20mins a day max, i set 10mins as my total swing time, and do a low amount of reps, as explosively possible, on the minute, for 10 sets. This may be 5reps with the rest of the minute as an adequate rest, and as i get more conditioned, i simply add a rep to each set til i hit 10 in 10sets/mins. Then i go up in weight as appropriate. This is working fantastically! As one with a fighter’s mindset 24/7, i am impressed with the practical improvement this has cause and effected in ALL my train8ng areas.

    Thanks for the great article, Pavel!

      • Thanks Pavel.

        I forgot to add that i have only been doing this once a week, on a 7 day cycle that has something different each day including SFG-type Roadwork (your article on Roadwork inspired that addition ), a max strength day, speed & plyos, Heavy Hands and loaded carries, and isometrics. Definitely a GPP approach but one that is paying wonderful dividends.

  • I was waiting for this article from you Pavel. A great companion read, a must read to the book, long time due, especially after some insightful (sometimes heated lol) discussions in the forum, and lots of ideas and knowledge were scattered all around the place. Now we have one single article to point every one to with such qustions. So thank you for that.

    I have a question about my S&S training. In between sets of (7 or 8 reps using a 24kg currently), I let my heart rate go as high as 142 (my target is 137, and i take a +5 leeway) and then I stop. However I am not huffing and puffing. I can talk and I think I pass the talk test. What does this mean? Why is my heart pumping so hard? Perhaps my heart (or cardiovascular) system is weak?

    Another question I have is, and it does take a long time (4 to 5 minutes) for the HR to come down from 142 to under 120. I don’t wait to go down any further to start the next set for otherwise my whole training duration will be longer. Is this normal? What do I do?

    I am 43 years old and generally fit and in good shape.

    Thanks.

    • Abdul,

      Q1:
      It is difficult to say without testing. On one side of the table, the formula does not fit you well. On the other, your lung capacity is high as compared to your cardiovascular function (genetic). Then, there is everything in between…

      Your HR recovery is suspect of poor aerobic function, something we discussed on the forum, if I recall.

      Q2:
      Questions of my own:
      – do you have any medical conditions that you are aware of?

      – your wording makes me think that you, “swing until your HR reaches 142”, and this occurs at rep 7 or 8. Is this accurate? As opposed to, “you perform 7 or 8 reps… THEN, the subsequent spike in HR reaches 142”. Which did you mean? (This is important.)

      – at which set does your HR finally exceed 135-ish?
      – how long are your rest intervals in the beginning sets of your session?
      – what is your HR when you begin your swings?
      – can you post your HR dynamics, referenced in time/set number either here, or, in an email to me?

      – have you ever performed an aerobic capacity test?
      – do you do any LSD work? … are you game for some: do you have the time, interest, etc?

      – what does “generally fit, and in good shape”, mean?

      • Thanks Al. I saw your post in the morning, but waited till evening to have access to my training log.

        From Q1: When we say poor aerobic function, does that mean poor heart muscles, which is working hard to pump blood? Should I be worried and go see a doctor?

        From Q2, answers to your questions:
        1. No medical conditions that I am aware of. I have no medications. I have minor joint aches (lower back, neck, left shoulder sometimes) which doesn’t prevent me from doing any exercises.
        2. I meant “you perform 7 or 8 reps… THEN, the subsequent spike in HR reaches 142”.
        3. Which set does your HR finally exceed 135-ish? You mean hit 135 at the moment when I finish the set? The first set itself! (I hope I understood the question)
        4. Rest intervals in the beginning sets are 4-5 minutes. It comes down from 142-145 till 115-120. If I did a rep more, and if the HR hits 150 or so, I have to wait ~6 minutes to get it under 120. This is the case with all sets.
        5. HR when I begin the swing is 110-115 since I do it after halos/goblet squats. Here I will add that my resting HR is 68-69. My HR shoots up till 155-160 after three rounds of halos and goblet squats. I wait around 6-7 minutes before i start the swing.
        6. I will email the HR dynamics to you, yes.
        7. No haven’t performed the aerobics capacity test.
        8. LSD: I have started doing a bit of slow jogging two years ago. I stopped doing it except a random 30 minute jog once in two weeks or so. Yes, I am game for this.
        9. ‘Generally fit, good shape’. I know it was a sweeping statement. I meant I am not overweight. I don’t take any medications. I am active. i can participate in recreational sports such as tennis, table tennis etc.

        Thank you.

  • I absolutely love everything that I read about Seluyanov. The alactic / aerobic “easy conditioning” is definitely revolutionary as compared to most systems out there. I have found references to Seluyanov’s work that outlines an easy glycolytic conditioning as well. I have been experimenting with it and I feel minimal fatigue. Fresh enough to partake five days a week. I am definitely within the lactate threshold for the entire duration of all the intervals, based on your suggested talk test , but with short lived muscle burn, if at all. If the burn does come, the bout is over, and you have no choice but to recover easily. The secret to the success is clearly in it’s low volume.

    Sorry if my comments always seem to be contratarian, that’s not my intention. I just like to be as inclusive as possible.

    ken.

      • Yes, when it comes to Seluyanov, I have read everything I could find. Believe it or not, I have been following you in print for 15 years plus. I am a bit late to the virtual realm, though. I was always a bit turned off by Dragondoor, commercial circus, I guess.

        ken

  • Great article Pavel thanks for the info.

    Just curious though, is this idea of training alactic conditioning to make the alactic “tank” bigger actually that effective? Is the purpose to make the alactic part of the effort last longer, and does it actually improve that much?

    Since most sports will require high intensity for prolonged periods of time (more than 20 secs of work), then shouldn’t the bulk of our conditioning be specific to that aka glycotic conditioning?

    Thanks for the article again!

    • 305, the alactic tank can be increased, e.g. sprinters can sustain a very powerful effort for up to 30sec where others only 10-15sec. But this increase is small compared to the improvements you get from developing mitochondria.

      Most sports use all three energy pathways but the ratio varies. You want to reduce the share of glycolysis even in “glycolytic” sports like judo.

        • Zaldy, they used a number of anti-glycolytic methods. Making several dummy throws followed by long active rest intervals (e.g. 3-5sec of throws on the minute). Intense sparring—but limited to 30sec and with long rests. Circuits with very easy exercises done non-stop. Exercises to hypertrophy slow fibers.

    • 305,

      This is true, as Pavel stated, for those sports which require it… but only in the (very) short term, pre-event/season cycle. Long term, annual conditioning is better spent developing aerobic function: for “all” applications. It is the prep cycles that are very specific to energy use during the event, and where it is valuable to find a good coach/trainer who can evaluate your needs and dial you in.

  • Another beneift I’ve found of putting away the stop watch for most sessions is better focus on the practice itself, as no attention needs to be spent monitoring rest intervals and worrying about finishing the set in time. Wrokouts are also judged more organically and I feel better about my day to day sessions than when I was timing every session.

  • i have been applying this philosophy to my running with great results – when walking the dog i perform 2 to 3 sprints of 100 to 150 yards, some flat, some on hills. the first sprint typically takes place about 10 minutes into the walk, then we walk for another ten minutes before the next and after another 10 to 20 minutes i might do another. i keep a very implicit focus on technique and i do this everyday. So here’s my running program, 2 sets of sprints per day, everyday, with 10 minutes of rest. That was all the running i did for 3 months this past Spring leading up to a 10k and i finished it comfortably, without stress and in the middle of the pack – and im not a runner, i dont have years of long distance running as a foundation. i have S&S and these sprints, two a day. it doesnt take much, but it helps to have a dog.

  • StrongFirst forum bears fruit, excellent!

    Pavel’s work was a revolution in a strength training – I have the feeling that (with help of Al at al.) we are going to witness a revolution in conditioning. “Easy Conditioning” you say?

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